The pace of technological change seems to be speeding up as the internet and information technology continue to fuel innovations like Amazon, Facebook and Google. But not all the changes are happening in cyberspace; exciting advances in a range of fields including nano-technology, bio-technology and space travel means the near future will be an interesting time to be alive. New technologies can have very disruptive effects on society, so the more you know about what’s coming the better prepared you’ll be to make the most of it.
15. A Fuel Cell Future
There are more and more hybrid automobiles on the road everyday and most of them use a combination of gasoline and electricity to improve fuel efficiency. However, hydrogen fuel cell technology is poised to assert itself in the hybrid market. A hydrogen cell or battery converts hydrogen gas to electricity to run a motor and produces water and heat as by-products. Although fuel cells are a promising technology, there are a few hurdles that must be overcome. First, hydrogen is combustible and can be difficult to transport safely in large quantities. Second, producing hydrogen for commercial use requires a significant amount of energy. When these issues are addressed hydrogen fuel cells will be an attractive alternative to gasoline engines.
14. Robo Writers
This article you are now reading was written by an actual person – I promise, but this might not last much longer. Natural language programs and algorithms are increasingly being used for content creation. It is a process called automated narrative generation. The algorithms can even produce articles in different writing styles to match the tastes of the target audience. Although this technology has already been used for a few years, it hasn’t really broken through yet. However, with recent improvements in artificial technology, writers could soon find themselves out of a job. Yikes!
13. Johnny Cab
Americans love their cars; it’s a part of the culture. Before George Lucas made Star Wars, he made American Graffiti – a celebration of the 1960’s car culture where teenagers spent Friday nights cruising the strip with friends. Perhaps technology will improve these bonding moments by not needing a designated driver… at least not a human driver. The automobile industry is developing artificial intelligence that has cars driving themselves. We will probably see this first with commercial trucking, taxis and couriers, but the family sedan can’t be far behind. A switch to driver-less vehicles could greatly reduce traffic congestion and improve safety, but it would essentially turn cars into train compartments.
12. Test Tube Meat
Does test tube meat sound appetizing? Or does it sound more like an entry in the Urban Dictionary? Either way advances in the science of tissue engineering means “cultured meat” might soon be coming to your local supermarket. Stems cells from cows are being manipulated and grown on a scaffold to produce three dimensional muscle tissue. The first cultured hamburger was grown by Dr. Mark Post. The meat was cooked and sampled at a press event in London in 2013. If it tastes like real meat it should make meat eaters and vegans happy since both groups would get what they want.
11. Good News from Goodenough
The inventor of the Lithium-Ion batteries that we find in all our electronic devices is at it again. From the University of Texas in Austin, Professor John Goodenough and his assistant Maria Helena Braga have introduced a solid state glass battery. Lithium-Ion batteries use liquid electrolytes to move the lithium ions between anode and cathode components of the battery. The new batteries use solid glass electrolytes which make them more safe and efficient. They are noncombustible, charge faster and hold a charge longer than the Lithium-Ion batteries. The current battery technology is the weak point of portable devices; the new technology could spur a new technology revolution.
10. Cancer Blood Test
Finding cancer as early as possible is one of the keys to battling it successfully. Now simple blood tests are becoming a weapon in the fight. A study was performed in the United Kingdom that repeatedly took blood samples from lung cancer patients. By analyzing the blood for traces of damaged DNA, the researchers were able to detect signs of cancer as much as a year before standard tests like X-rays and CT scans. This is a great advancement because the earlier cancer is detected the better the outcome for the patient. Blood test cancer screening is a lot cheaper than using other more sophisticated and expensive equipment. This could be very helpful for people with low income or no medical insurance.
9. Designer Kids
The possibility of genetically enhanced humans has long been a popular theme in science fiction. But as often happens, science fiction is becoming science fact. New techniques are being developed that use some of the components of the DNA molecule itself to allow researchers to replace a segment of DNA strand with another segment. This editing process could conceivably allow parents to choose or at least influence their children’s physical, intellectual and emotional traits. This raises ethical and social questions because parents who could afford it would likely choose a cluster of certain traits such as height, intelligence and athletic ability – in effect creating a “superior” race of humans.
8. Six Million Dollar Man
Six million dollars was a lot of money in the 1970’s. There was hit television show about a test pilot named Steve Austin who was turned into a cyborg secret agent. He left eye, right arm and both legs were replaced with “bionic” parts and made him a formidable hero. Real technology that could make these things reality is rapidly progressing. Artificial intelligence, smart prosthetics and implants could soon make anyone with enough money and desire into a cybernetic organism. Prosthetics for accident victims and wounded soldiers have made tremendous strides over the last decade. As strange it may sound people, may choose to replace their perfectly healthy arms, legs and other body parts with artificial ones.
7. Killer Robots
The T-800 cybernetic organism is technically not a robot, it has become the pop-culture face of a modern fear: the killer robot. The idea that we will create machines that we might not be able to control has a long history with stories about metal beings appearing in ancient myths. The U.S. military has spent a great deal of time and money to create combat robots that can engage the enemy without putting its soldiers at risk. Unmanned vehicles or drones accomplish this with a great deal of success, but require a stand-off human operator to drive or pilot them and to fire their weapons. Robotic technology is improving to the point where machines will be able to act on their own. Soon the military, police forces, and security companies will have killer robots.
6. Size of Things to Come
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter, or in other words is very small. Nanotechnology involves materials and components at microscopic or what’s often referred to as near-atomic levels. With special equipment and techniques manufacturers can use molecules, nature’s building blocks, to make products with special qualities, such as having super strength or greater conductivity than conventional materials. Smart fabrics are one example of nanotechnology seeping into our everyday lives. These fabrics are designed at the molecular level with sensors that could monitor the wearer’s health or capture and store their kinetic or movement energy.
5. One Giant Leap for Computing
Blue ink might be the key to inexpensive quantum computing. Certain British banknotes contain copper Phthalocyanine which happens to be an organic superconductor. It is stable enough to be used to make circuits for quantum computers. When the technology to make these circuits is mastered, computing will change radically. Instead of using a binary system of “1’s” and “0’s” or “on” and “off,” a quantum computer can be “on” and “off” at the same time. This means they can operate at incredible speeds that are impossible with current technology. This will enable the development of new forms of encryption.
4. Clone Wars
Ever since Dolly the sheep was cloned from an adult somatic cell in 1997, the promise of human cloning has simmered just below the surface. The technology to make it reliable and inexpensive has been slow in coming, but that may be changing. Although, don’t expect to be able to get an exact copy of yourself or your favorite uncle. Cloning’s most likely use will be to make exact copies of your organs and other tissues so if you are sick or injured you can be easily treated. This technology may offer a practical immortality, but it also raises serious ethical questions. When the technology to clone a person exists it will be done – there are unsubstantiated claims it has been done already.
3. Space, the Final Market
The future of mankind in space seemed bright in the summer of 1969 when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, but since then unmanned probes and even an orbiting space station have failed to ignite the public’s imagination. What about there pocketbooks? A space-based economy with stratospheric profits never materialized. The truth is space is hard, but if money can be made things will change. Commercial space travel could be the first tentative step toward making space pay. Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is one of several companies working feverishly to put civilians into Earth orbit. It will only be for very wealthy people at first, but commercial air travel started out in similar fashion.
2. Better than the Real Thing
Tim Robbins’ character in the 1992 movie The Player observed: “If we could just get rid of these actors and directors, maybe we’ve got something here.” Twenty-five years later Hollywood might indeed have something now: computer generated graphics that are close to becoming photo realistic. Perhaps the toughest subject to fool people with is the human face because we’re all experts in recognizing the real thing. But the makers of Disney’s 2016 Rogue One created eerily realistic Princess Leia and Governor Tarkin characters. The technology is quickly reaching the point where we won’t be able to tell the difference between the computer image and the real thing.
1. Keep Watching the Skies
Many scientists believe improvements in telescopes and other sensor make it more likely that extraterrestrial life will be located in our galaxy within the next couple of decades. The Kepler telescope, which orbits our sun, has identified 3,500 planets outside our solar system. Real E.T.s probably won’t resemble the humanoid aliens in movies like those in the 1951 flick, The Thing From Another World. We probably can’t even imagine what they would really be like. The discovery of even the simplest forms of life from an alien world would be the biggest discovery in the Earth’s history. Are we even sure we’d want to meet an alien species capable of crossing the endless expanses of space and time to show up on our front door?